By Lesley Wroughton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday named senior policy adviser Brian Hook as special representative for Iran.
The move came as the administration prepared to increase economic pressure on Iran by restoring sanctions to force Tehran to end its nuclear weapons program and support for militant groups in the Middle East.
Hook will lead a newly established Iran Action Group to coordinate the State Department’s pressure campaign on Iran, Pompeo told a news conference.
The announcement was not a surprise. Hook, who has pushed for tough action against Iran and has worked with national security adviser John Bolton, has been leading the department’s talks with allies in Europe and Asia to persuade them to support U.S. sanctions and cut off Iran’s oil supplies as of November.
“The Iran Action Group will be responsible for directing, reviewing and coordinating all aspects of the State Department’s Iran-related activity, and will report directly to me,” Pompeo said.
“We are committed to a whole-of-government effort to change the Iranian regime’s behaviour, and the Iran Action Group will ensure that the Department of State remains closely synchronized with our interagency partners,” he added.
Trump announced in May the United States was withdrawing from an Iran nuclear deal sealed in 2015 between Tehran and six world powers. The United States has said it would only end the sanctions if Iran allowed the negotiation of a tougher deal.
Hook, who was a close adviser to former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, worked with Bolton on Iran sanctions while Bolton was U.N. ambassador under Republican President George W. Bush.
Hook also served as an assistant secretary of state during Bush’s administration and was an adviser to the Republican presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty.
Trump has said he would be willing to meet Iran’s leader, although Tehran said the way back to talks was for the United States to return to the nuclear deal.
Asked whether he supported such a meeting and whether his brief would be to set up those talks, Hook said if Iran showed that it was willing to change its behaviour, then Trump “was prepared to engage in dialogue in order to find solutions.”
Washington aims to force Tehran to end its nuclear program and its support of militant groups in the Middle East, where Iran is involved in proxy wars from Yemen to Syria.
Iran and other signatories, including Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, have been working to find a way to salvage the nuclear agreement, even as the United States has started reimposing some sanctions on Iran.
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Writing by Makini Brice; editing by Jonathan Oatis)